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OPINION: Please don’t let ‘mys’ be the next Scandinavian lifestyle trend

Swedish 'mys' looks next in the chain of untranslatable word-based Scandinavian lifestyle trends. If only those writing about it knew that it very often means little more than binging on dreadful tacos and Netflix.

OPINION: Please don't let 'mys' be the next Scandinavian lifestyle trend
For many Swedes 'mys' means little more than guzzling crisps in front of the TV. Photo: Ingvar Karmhed/SvD/TT

The New York Times fired the first shot last week, with “Danish Hygge is so last year, say hello to Swedish mys“, followed by a listing of posh lifestyle boutiques in Stockholm’s trendy Södermalm district.

Leaving aside the fact that hygge was actually the lifestyle trend of 2016, the article entirely misses the point of mys, which tends defiantly towards the trashy, and is much more about wrapping yourself in your duvet on the sofa than lounging on the sort of pricey woven quilts sold in the shops mentioned.

Although it’s “very similar” to hygge, the New York Times argues, mys is narrower, and “refers more pointedly to an ultra-cozy atmosphere”.

This much is true.

While a summer picnic or family bicycle ride can be hyggelig, mys is limited to the ‘candles and cocoa’ side of hygge. You could probably mysa around a campfire on a summer night, but you couldn’t mysa during a walk in the woods.

Danes also debate whether hygge is possible when you’re alone (most argue it’s by definition sociable). Mys has no such constraints.

While it can be social, you can absolutely mysa alone in the bath, or having a long lie-in. Children might mumble jag vill mysa, “I want to be cosy”, when refusing to emerge from their duvets to go to school.

But while hygge is all about making a little bit of extra effort to create the perfect atmosphere, mys is much less fussy.

Surrounding yourself with artisanal candles, and sipping from a top-end red wine is not exactly incompatible with mys, but I’d argue the posher and showier your surroundings and comestibles, the harder true mys is to achieve.

This does not mean mys isn’t commercial though. It has in fact been so relentlessly commercialised in Sweden that it’s lost a lot of its original meaning.

Mys, expensive scented candles or a Nordic bastardisation of tacos? Discuss. Photo: Gorm Kallestad/NTB scanpix/TT

For many Swedes fredagsmys, which happens after work on Friday, is the pinnacle of mys (although if you were being uncharitable, you’d argue this is just a way of putting a positive spin on staying in on a Friday night).

And that the centre of it all is tacos is almost entirely down to the marketing carried out throughout the 1990s by the Swedish businessman Lars-Olof Mattsson.

After he was served some tacos on a friend’s yacht off the West Coast, Mattsson decided to launch Tex-Mex food in Sweden, and set up the brand Santa Maria, which now has its own dedicated section in most Swedish supermarkets.

Mattsson is not the only businessman who has cashed in on fredagsmys.

Before the arrival of Netflix, Sweden seemed to have more branches of the video chain Hemmakväll (meaning ‘evening in at home’) than it had pubs or bars, a worrying sign, I’d argue, of how little time Swedes spend out and about in the evening.

Swedish mys is also part of the reason for the gigantic crisp and snacks sections in most supermarkets and convenience stories. Popular fredagsmys options include potato crisps flavoured with dill (weird), jordnötsringar peanut rings (weirder), Cheez Ballz (disgusting) and Flamin’ Hot Cheez Cruncherz (dangerously addictive).

Despite all the mys-based marketing, the old meaning of mys survives, however.

It is the height of mys (and completely free) to snuggle up with your partner or children under a warm duvet long into Saturday morning. Having sex can be mysigt (so long as it doesn’t get too energetic).

It is mysigt to stay in your pyjamas until lunchtime. It is mysigt to have pancakes for breakfast (although also a bit American, as Swedes tend not to see pancakes as breakfast).

Another core mys variant, of course is julmys, ‘Christmas mys‘, which describes the calm and cosy Christmas ideal of doing puzzles, making and eating sweets, and slowly chatting over glasses of warm, sweet spicy glögg with friends and family.

What you can bet on, though, is that hardly any of the copycat articles that follow the New York Times’ piece on mys (and they will come, I guarantee it), will make much mention of tacos and Netflix.

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Swedish clichés: Is the alcohol monopoly really a sign of an all-controlling state?

In this new series, The Local's reader Alexander de Nerée seeks to challenge some of the clichés about Sweden.

Swedish clichés: Is the alcohol monopoly really a sign of an all-controlling state?

There are some undeniable truths about Sweden (lots of Volvos, lots of trees) but when asked, most people don’t get far past the usual clichés. And nor did I. 

A well-organized country full of high tax paying, IKEA flatpack-loving, slightly distant Fika fanatics, all happily queuing to buy some much-needed state-controlled booze to get through the never-ending cold and dark winters.

In this series, I give my take on some of the more commonly heard assumptions about life in Sweden and how I experience them.

When you are visiting family back home after your move to Sweden, you will note that nothing seems to get a tipsy uncle quite as riled up as your story about the state-controlled alcohol market. It’s also something that comes up surprisingly often when you tell people you live in Sweden. The mere mention of having to go to a special shop to purchase alcohol seems to set people off in a certain way.

That the shops are called Systembolaget, like some Soviet-era holdover obviously does little to calm your uncle down.

To start with the concept itself. Having grown up in The Netherlands, I was not bowled over with indignation at the idea of having to go to a separate shop to purchase my poison. Although supermarkets in the Netherlands do sell alcohol, it is pretty common to buy your wine, as well as any stronger stuff, at what Australians call a ‘bottle shop’  (which rather misses the point of what’s actually for sale).

READ ALSO: Like having sex in a church: Sweden’s uptight attitude to alcohol

Apart from having a larger assortment than supermarkets, these shops also have specialized staff that can recommend wines with your food. 

But with plenty of well-stocked and reasonably priced Systembolagets around and one right outside my local supermarket, I don’t think the airtime this topic gets when people talk about life in Sweden is actually justified.

For the now properly drunk uncle at your family dinner, the Systembolaget is of course a sign of a bigger problem with Sweden: the all-controlling state. The outrageous combination of high taxes, free healthcare and schooling and state-controlled alcohol must mean that the government has a finger in every aspect of life.

It turns out your uncle is engaging in a long-standing tradition that has been dubbed ‘Sweden bashing’. It started with Eisenhower, but in more recent years lesser statesmen dabbled in it as well. Although there is no clear definition, it seems to involve cherry-picking facts about Sweden – or alternatively just making them up – in order to ridicule the Swedish model. It’s a model that, according to the ideology of the bashers, should fail miserably but somehow stubbornly refuses to do so.

Despite the long-standing tradition of Sweden bashing, I think anyone who lives here will agree that in everyday life there is nothing particularly invasive about enjoying free education and healthcare in exchange for higher taxes. Come to think of it, that is pretty much the model applied in the Netherlands and they never got stuck with a reputation for an overbearing government. On the other hand, Holland does get bashed for easy access to drugs and euthanasia, so I guess you have to be careful what you wish for.

Considering it now really only functions as a lightning rod for politicians, it may not be a bad idea to let go of the state monopoly on alcohol sales.

As for the bashing itself, I think the current Swedish response to it works just fine: a light shrug of the shoulders and let the system speak for itself.

Alexander de Nerée moved to Stockholm with his husband in October 2020. He is Dutch, but moved from Zürich, Switzerland, after having lived in Hong Kong for 10 years. Not having been to Sweden before the move, Alexander had some broad assumptions about what life in Sweden would be like. In this series, he revisits these assumptions and gives his take.  Alexander wrote for series for The Local before about his “firsts” in Sweden.